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Dusty Atmospheric Rivers: Characteristics and Origins

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  • 1 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California
  • 2 Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California
  • 3 Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

Atmospheric rivers (AR) are narrow bands of strong horizontal transport of water vapor in the midlatitudes that can cause extreme precipitation, which contributes to beneficial water supply and sometimes flooding. The precipitation productivity of an AR is affected by microphysical processes, including the influence of aerosols. Earlier case studies have shown that some ARs over the North Pacific Ocean contain dust from Africa and Asia that can strongly influence precipitation by acting as ice nuclei. This paper explores how commonly dust and ARs occur together, or in close proximity. A “dust score” is introduced to characterize the dustiness of the environment associated with ARs by using satellite-based observations. This method is applied to days on which one or more ARs made landfall along the west coast of the United States between 2001 and 2018. The dust score is used to describe the seasonality and year-to-year variability of dusty-environment ARs. Dusty ARs occur primarily in the early spring (March–April), and dust is preferentially found within the warm sector of AR-associated extratropical cyclones and is also enhanced in the cold sector. Year-to-year variability in dust score is dependent more on year-to-year variability in dust than on the frequency of AR days. This year-to-year variability is also strongly related to correlations between the frequency of ARs and the dustiness of the northeastern Pacific, motivating additional investigation into potential dynamical association between dust and ARs.

Corresponding author: Kara K. Voss, kvoss@ucsd.edu

Abstract

Atmospheric rivers (AR) are narrow bands of strong horizontal transport of water vapor in the midlatitudes that can cause extreme precipitation, which contributes to beneficial water supply and sometimes flooding. The precipitation productivity of an AR is affected by microphysical processes, including the influence of aerosols. Earlier case studies have shown that some ARs over the North Pacific Ocean contain dust from Africa and Asia that can strongly influence precipitation by acting as ice nuclei. This paper explores how commonly dust and ARs occur together, or in close proximity. A “dust score” is introduced to characterize the dustiness of the environment associated with ARs by using satellite-based observations. This method is applied to days on which one or more ARs made landfall along the west coast of the United States between 2001 and 2018. The dust score is used to describe the seasonality and year-to-year variability of dusty-environment ARs. Dusty ARs occur primarily in the early spring (March–April), and dust is preferentially found within the warm sector of AR-associated extratropical cyclones and is also enhanced in the cold sector. Year-to-year variability in dust score is dependent more on year-to-year variability in dust than on the frequency of AR days. This year-to-year variability is also strongly related to correlations between the frequency of ARs and the dustiness of the northeastern Pacific, motivating additional investigation into potential dynamical association between dust and ARs.

Corresponding author: Kara K. Voss, kvoss@ucsd.edu
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